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Artist of the Month - October 2006

The Morse Code
By Annabelle Numaguchi




Loise Seiler and Tim Morse

T. J. Morse fits the image of a cowboy, not an artist. He speaks quietly and meaningfully. He’s not eccentric, enigmatic or boastful. He wears jeans a great deal and works in a building covered in branding iron marks. L , he doesn’t seem any more eager to challenge an art critic than he would be to challenge an outlaw.

Although he may appear like a cowboy on the outside, Morse harbors the soul of an artist. Through his portfolio, he depicts a unique and beautiful vision of the world around him.

The landscapes he paints are lovely and accessible and certainly don’t make any bold social commentary or herald a new movement in culture.

What Morse’s prolific painting accomplishes, besides pleasing the viewer’s eyes, is capturing the mysticism of nature and how these Western landscapes affect the people who see and live within them. Morse evinces a mastery of technique and comfort in his medium to be distinguished as an artist, but his interpretation of the West and its magic and majesty are worthy of one who knows and roams the landscapes. This must be what a cowboy sees.

Because of his father who was in the oil business, Morse has traveled much of the West, starting in his birthplace of Wyoming and covering territory as far south as Texas.

Having always possessed an interest and ability in drawing and painting, Morse dabbled in art, while working construction as a young man. In his late twenties, he decided to pursue a profession that would allow him to incorporate his interest in art, and he received a B.A. in graphic design from the University of Central Oklahoma.

With the ubiquitous use of computers over manual layout in this field, Morse, a tactile person, found himself losing interest and gravitating towards the Fine Arts. Watercolors, generally considered the most difficult and ephemeral medium to paint with, drew Morse in and he focused on depicting his beloved Western landscapes in aquarelles.

Despite having an aunt who was a professional artist, it took a long time before Morse considered following the same avenue. In 1991, the native son returned to Moab, from where his parents originated. Not yet committed to becoming a professional painter, he put his manual and artistic dexterity into stone masonry.

Bolstered by the sale of a few paintings and the success he achieved at his first serious exhibit at the Moab Arts Festival, Morse partnered up with a friend, Jack Kleinke, to open one of Moab’s first art galleries, The Overlook.

It seemed fitting that these two rugged Westerners chose a venue in what had one time been a drinking establishment. The wooden facade is covered in seared branding marks, imbuing the gallery with a rustic, cowboy appearance.

Although neither Morse nor Kleinke had much experience or knowledge about running a gallery, they succeeded in keeping it afloat. The first years were bumpy, but eventually The Overlook expanded by adding a second location on Main Street. The gallery offered Morse and his colleagues a venue to show their work, but the commitment of running the gallery was eating into the time Morse could spend painting.

Exhausted, he sold The Overlook eight years after he and Kleinke had opened it. In order to reinvigorate his artistic inspiration, Morse turned to a reclusive lifestyle, holing himself up in Old Lasal, a community located in the nearby mountains. He continued to live off his art, trading paintings for rent, and this new solitude afforded him the time and energy to genuinely focus on his painting.

This time period in Morse’slife is reflected in his ethereal, pristine renderings of landscapes, particularly scenes with aspens. His stylized watercolors depict the contours of the trees, rivers and buttes he paints realistically, and it is the hues that give the landscapes a surreal, nostalgic appearance.

Morse reveals that the mountain and desert scenes he depicts are his escape. This explains the immediate accessibility that viewers have to his artwork because he creates images of places that people are drawn to and offers them the same escape.

Rejuvenated by the solitude he found in the LaSals, Morse moved to Tubac, Arizona, in 2003, where he managed to blend the aspects he most liked about the two lifestyles he’d recently experienced. He helped run a gallery, which gave him the opportunity to learn more about the business, but still have time to paint.
Through the gallery, he was also exposed to many different styles of art, and had the chance of talking to various painters about technique, all while improving his own.

The invigorating beauty of Moab called Morse back eventually. He returned in July 2005 and partnered up with Louise Seiler, a friend and fellow artist. Discerning that the environment here is more favorable for promoting visual arts than it has ever been, Morse and Seiler purchased The Overlook Gallery together.

The gallery re-opened under Morse’s co-ownership on June 15, 2006, favoring a bent towards western landscapes and local artists.

Just as his business skills improved with time and experience, so has his painting. In his most recent works, he continues to explore his favorite subject matter through new techniques.

He has created a series of water media paintings depicting Ancient Pueblo petroglyphs, whose ochre hues are so intense, they cause a double take determining whether they are painting or photograph.

The red ochres so strongly associated with Moab’s rocky desert appear in almost every painting of Morse’s.

Another series of current paintings features stormy skies achieved through the blending of pinks, purples and blues in watercolors. He then paints a silhouette of the main feature, such as a butter or and old mission, in the ubiquitous red ochre. He adds details in mostly pastels in gouache, which allows him to overlay light colors on dark.

The chiaroscuro effect of pastels on dark ochre gives dimension to the subject, making it appear to pop out of the painting. An excellent example of this new style Morse uses is “Storm at Tumacacori,” where the old mission building, realistically depicted, seems to bathe in a surreal sunlight.

The partnership between Morse and Seiler affords them both time to paint since they share the responsibility of running the business. For Morse in particular, who began The Overlook when he and Moab were just budding in their new identities as artist and tourist destination, taking possession once again of this venue seems to symbolize coming full circle. Back in the town of his roots, he evinces peace and contentment at his ability to pursue his painting, make a living at it and watch as the arts community in Moab continues to develop.

Like a rancher who has created his own domain out of scraggly acreage, Morse can review his achievements and the artistic territory he has tilled with warm satisfaction. He has evolved as a painter, achieving a distinct, mature look to his enticing paintings and he has created a venue that both furthers local artists’ works and will help make Moab into an arts destination.

The Overlook Gallery is located on 83 E. Center Street and can be reached at (435) 259-3861. Morse’s work is also represented in Peaceful Escapes Gallery (Springdale, UT), Sheryl Leonard Galleries (Prescott, AZ) and Los Reyes Gallery (Tubac, AZ). His works can also be seen online at www.tjmorse.com.

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